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Maria Sapuppo needed to sell her comfy bi-level with five bedrooms and three bathrooms last year, but her real estate agent warned it looked a little too “lived-in” as it was and suggested staging it. Sapuppo, a River Vale, N.J., mother of two, agreed since she said she had a hard time looking at her house as a stranger would view it. She couldn’t envision it any other way.

Though real estate agents have been advising clients on how to prepare their homes for sale for decades, staging has become more detailed and focused. Companies specializing in the art of staging are also starting to emerge.

“It’s de-cluttering, neutralizing colors and showcasing highlights of the home such as hardwood floors,” said Roberta Whitley Gomez, who staged Sapuppo’s home and is the owner of Whitley Realty in New Milford, N.J.

Proper staging can mean 6 percent to 20 percent more on a sale, and can help sell the home more quickly, experts say. The Real Estate Staging Association claims that properties that have been staged typically spend 73 percent less time on the market.

How should a house look after staging? As the adage says, less is more.

Sapuppo, on the advice of Whitley Gomez, removed almost all the furniture. Bedrooms had a bed, a chair and a decorative piece, like a basket with flowers.

“We had no dressers – underwear and socks were in a basket at the bottom of my closet,” Sapuppo said. “We took out anything that was personal.”

The trick of staging, experts say, is to remove anything that makes the house look like, well, like it’s yours. Take down those photographs of the grandkids, religious symbols and all that stuff on the refrigerator.

You want potential buyers to be able to imagine their own belongings in the home, yet you still need some items to show the actual size of the rooms.

“It’s an oxymoron, but rooms look smaller with nothing in them,” said Joyce Fierstat, a rental consultant with Cort Furniture in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., where about a third of the company’s business is staging homes. “Without an empty bedroom, it’s really difficult to tell what size bed would fit comfortably.

Most homeowners do their own staging based on their real estate agent’s advice.

In addition to removing all manner of tchotchkes, experts have a list of staging must-dos to get top dollar for any home.

First, clean, clean and then clean some more. Who wants a house with a shower stall lined in mildew? Windows should sparkle to let in every glimmer of natural light, floors should be crumb-free and furniture clear of dust.

Second, make sure the tidiness stretches outside the house. Paint the front door, clear the walkway and driveway, make sure lights are working and fixtures gleam. Add a splash of color to that front door with a wreath.

Third, sellers need to focus on anything broken that they’ve been living with and ignoring. Fix that dripping faucet in the bathroom no one uses or the cracked tile you forgot about by the back door.